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my hands are small I know but they’re not your they are my own and I am never broken… – Jewel. “Hands.” Spirit. Atlantic Records, 1998.

"hands" artwork, 1999

My teenage years were filled with poems and music and angst and art and an unquenchable desire to put into words and pastels and photos and pencil what I was feeling. I was in a portfolio art class in high school where we had to pick a theme, and with my love of words, mine was quotations.  I could create any piece of art as long as it was based around a quote.  I used the opportunity to chronicle what was going on in my tedious, high school existence, or to put into pictures a song or poem that I loved. In December of 1999 I decided to use Jewel’s song “Hands”. I used a photo someone had taken of my hands in Central Park as a center piece, and painstakingly sketched my own, spelling the word “hand” in American Sign Language. After I finished the project, I often wondered if I should have used someone else as the hand model.

my mother's hands of joy

I’ve never liked my hands. My mother’s hand are long and elegant, with generous nail beds, and the softest skin, always having the warmest and most comforting touch. My own fingers are short with small nail beds that produce nails that like to bend and crack and break at the slightest provocation.  I always felt my fingers should be longer so that it was easier to play the piano, or should be more graceful and ladylike. They have been my one true vanity as long as I can remember.  I used to spend every two or three weeks in a salon for an hour, having my nails filed to perfection or gelled or acrylic-ed until they were long and strong, neat and clean. And sometimes, then I would think they might be pretty enough. They might look feminine enough.

my father's hands, writing while on leave in the 60's

My father had thick worker’s hands. They were by no means ugly, but they had the tell tale signs of someone who did something with them everyday other than sitting at a keyboard or shuffling papers.  My father, as a baker, would often come home from work with his nail beds stained red or blue or yellow, depending on the icing or filling he had been working with that day. With his tourettes, my fathers hands would jerk and stutter occasionally. But when he was smoothing butter cream over sheet cake, or using a putty knife in the tiniest corner to smooth out a perfection, they were meticulous, artful hands that created beauty.

Whenever we finished a piece of art, we had to write an entry in our sketchbooks as a sort of summary of the thought process, the creation process. Part of my entry when I finished my “hands” project reads: “I wanted to illustrate them in some way because it’s a message of overcoming helplessness.  and senior year with all the work piling around you, the deadlines to meet and the applications to fill out, it is definitely a time when you just want to throw your hands up in the air and have someone take care of it all for you.  But of course that never happens because none of us has a fairy godmother.” Some feelings never change. Sometimes work and this house – all the projects feel insurmountable.

But as I get older, I have learned to accept my hands for what they are. I don’t get my nails done anymore, and I’m actually liking that. My hands may be small but they are strong. They hold my husband’s hand when we walk through the store or down the street. They idly pet my cats as I lay reading in bed.  They play the piano. They hold a paintbrush so steady that I don’t always have to worry about painter’s tape. They begrudgingly get stuck into cold chop meat to make some of the best meatballs around. They gently tend the rose bush that we planted within the first weeks we moved into our house.  And they can fit into tiny spaces to retrieve dropped earrings or stray nails or screws. They fit perfectly into my husband’s own large, strong ones. They get covered in spray paint. They look like my father’s hands. And I think I may like that.

spray painted hands, june 2010

11 thoughts on “hands”

  1. To me, your mother, your hands are exquisite. They fit perfectly in mine. They joined with mine as we wandered sightless and hopeless through the days after your father died. They have crossed countless streets. prayed together when this country was on the brink of war and they will guide me into old age. Someday they will hold my hand as I pass. To me, they as beautiful as you are!

  2. Great post. I think you may well have found your medium, Cat. Congrats on your repost with “The Embellished Life”. I tried to follow the instructions on the site and post one of my own stories in the comments section, but for some reason it didn’t take. (Oh well, it seemed like a shamelessly self-promoting thing for me to do anyway.) Keep it up.

    1. Thank you, Ted! I have always valued your opinion. In grad school, you gave me some of the best feedback I have ever received. And now that I’m writing again, I don’t think I ever want to stop.

  3. I love your “hands” story because you have learned to focus on their positive attributes. Job well done!

    Lois W. Stern

  4. Hey Cat – just wanted you to know that so far, your story is the hands down winner for page views. As of today, 66 people have read “Hands”. I know it’s not a ton, but for a blog that’s just one week old, I’m pleased. And grateful that you allowed me to share your story at My Embellished Life. Warm regards, d

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